Pneumonia is an inflammation of the pulmonary alveoli and the surrounding tissue, often caused by an infection. Because the alveoli are being filled with white blood cells and moisture, there may be less oxygen going through the wall of the alveoli into the blood. This can cause chest tightness.
Pneumonia is caused by a pathogen, such as a virus, bacterium or fungus. After surgery or in case of broken ribs, coughing can be very painful, which allows coughing to be less effective or less frequent. As a result, pathogens will be poorly disposed. By an obstruction in the airway, for example due to a tumor, it’s difficult to clean up pathogens as well. This can result in an infection.
The most common pathogen of pneumonia is the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. Viruses that cause pneumonia are the influenza virus, the chickenpox virus and SARS viruses. Especially viral pneumonia can be contagious. After infection, it takes two to nineteen days before the first symptoms occur.
Pneumonia starts with an irritation of the lung tissue. Signs and symptoms associated with pneumonia are:
- Rapid, painful breathing, which is also superficial.
- Chest pain.
- Sore throat and headache.
- Fever, causing sweating and chills.
- Coughing up mucus, possibly with blood.
- In children is often seen that they open the nostrils extra wide during breathing to get enough air.
There may be blood in the coughed-up mucus, because the walls of the alveoli swell or get broken. Blood plasma and red and white blood cells from tiny blood vessels in the lungs fill the space then. As a result, the portion of the lung concerned is relatively hard and is temporarily not functional.
The diagnosis of pneumonia is mainly based on the patient’s symptoms and physical examination. The doctor listens to the lungs and assesses how serious the infection is by looking for blue discoloration of the skin and by measuring the temperature. Optionally, an X-ray is made to give answer.
In case of a mild pneumonia, the patient doesn’t need to be hospitalized, he or she can be treated at home. The medication that is given depends on the cause of the pneumonia. Antibiotics are effective with a bacterial cause, but not with a viral form. Fever and pain can be relieved by painkillers.
If there’s severe pneumonia, admission to the hospital is required. The patient will receive medication via an infusion. Sometimes, extra oxygen is given. Physical therapy stimulates breathing and coughing. Coughing up mucus is important, because it takes away waste products from the lungs.
After pneumonia, it may take a while before the patient is his or hers old self again. The body needs time to recover from the disease. The patient may continue feeling tired and the cough may also persist for a while. How long the recovery will take, depends on the cause and the severity of the inflammation.
People who are still young and in good condition, usually recover of most forms of pneumonia within a few weeks without permanent damage to the lungs. In case of the bacterial form, the recovery begins a few hours after starting treatment with antibiotics. Severe forms of pneumonia, such as legionnaires’ disease, can be fatal, especially in children, the elderly and people with poor immune systems.
- Always finish the antibiotics course.
- Take a rest and stay at home from work or school, certainly in case of fever and coughing up mucus.
- Drink plenty of water, especially when having fever.
- Don’t smoke and avoid passive smoking. Smoking irritates and weakens the lungs, making it more likely to have pneumonia.
- Cough syrups and expectorants don’t accelerate healing. However, they can ensure that the patient coughs less and thus sleeps better.
- Provide warm, dry clothing.
- Ensure adequate rest and eat healthy. Sufficient sleep and eating healthy maintains the immune system.
- Flu weakens the immune system, making a person more likely to have pneumonia. Get the flu shot if you are eligible to do so.
- Cough in case of illness into the inside of the elbow. Pneumonia can be transferred through the air and via the hands. By coughing into the inside of the elbow, a person reduces the chance of infecting others.